An open panel discussion on American policy in Africa was hosted at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Student Union Building, as part of an ongoing lecture series about the continent.
Alan Arismendez, a senior biology major from Mission and media officer for Tech Student Democrats, said the organization sponsored the event as a way of educating students about U.S. policy in Africa.
“Basically, we just want to raise awareness about the issues surrounding the African continent,” he said, “and hopefully people gain more knowledge and more insight on the region after leaving, not only tonight’s events, but the guest speakers will be making separate appearances.”
Arismendez said the panel discussed many contemporary issues involved with multiple nations in Africa.
“Basically, we were in conjunction with our faculty advisor, Dr. (Paul) Bjerk,” Arismendez said, “who is a professor of African history here, who brought up the idea of sponsoring this type of event to kind of just engage the public and inform them about African policy, and particularly American foreign policy in Africa, in light of the recent events that have taken place.”
The panel, titled “Conditions for War, Conditions for Peace,” consisted of four speakers, Arismendez said, including Douglas Johnson, an expert on South Sudan, Texas Senator Robert Krueger, Tibor Nagy, former ambassador to Ethiopia, and Ahmed Samatar, an expert on Somalia.
“They have a unique insight and knowledge about these particular issues surrounding this continent,” Arismendez said.
Panel members discussed how they believed U.S. foreign policy affected Africa, and what impact it had on the continent.
Nagy said while America viewed Africa as a chessboar — manipulating the players to get resources like oil, the U.S. is one of the only countries Africa depends on for aid in response to famine, natural disasters and war.
He said any amount of aid America provides Africa is appreciated by its citizens.
“Africa may not be the world’s wallet,” Nagy said, “but it’s certainly the world’s heart.”
Samatar discussed the issue of piracy in Somalia, mentioning how some Somalians have committed the crime as an act of retribution toward foreign countries for dumping waste on their shores and excessive fishing in their waters.
The panel also discussed women’s rights in Africa. Samatar described the issue as moving in a slow progress toward better education in some areas, while others are attempting to suppress women further. He said in order for things to change, the people would have to take things into their own hands.
“Liberation and progress are not given,” he said. “In the end, one has to grab it.”
Mackenzie Maxwell, an electronic media and communications major from Rockwell, said she first became interested in Africa after debating about the country’s health care on a UIL debate team in high school.
“I want to go to law school one day and do human rights law,” she said, “and one of the biggest example of violation of human rights is sometimes in Africa, so it’s interesting for someone who likes these kinds of things.”
Maxwell is a member of Tech Student Democrats, and said she hopes the panel will get students interested in Africa
“I hope that this will peak the interest of the rest of the student body, even if students don’t necessarily agree with me or the Tech Student Democrats,” she said. “It’s just nice when people are involved and interested in what’s going on in the world around them, rather than just going out and partying.”
Akwasi Afriyie, a senior chemical engineering major from Ghana said he thought the panel was insightful and offered possible solutions to the issues being discussed.
“Just like one of our colleagues mentioned, educating the people, empowering the people is key to resolving this whole thing,” he said. “If more people are educated, they’ll make the right choices and do the right thing.”
Afriyie said it is up to students to educate themselves about these issues in order to prevent themselves from making the same mistakes as previous generations.
“A lot of students don’t really care about these kinds of discussions, but these issues affect us all,” he said, “because if there’s an outbreak of war, it affects everyone. So, I think we should play a major part in what’s happening around the world, not just in our society, but what’s happening outside of the United States.”